Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promote equality. They also promote economic growth together with the preservation of the Earth’s ecosystem. The goals are admirable. Are they achievable? Let’s consider.

People who are rich consciously act to maintain their status. Certainly they’d be OK with everyone else being rich as long as they remained rich. This all inclusiveness wouldn’t be likely for two reasons. One, many people don’t care to be materially wealthy. Two, the Earth’s ecosystem can’t support an infinite number of wealthy people. Thus, we expect to always have a wealth disparity between people.

People who are poor don’t want to be poor. They may not realize that they are poor, as with some indigenous people who maintain a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. But, there’s a global expectation on child survivability, education and security. These expectations promote fairness. Achieving this requires the continual application of significant resources, such as energy. However, the Earth’s ecosystem can’t support the advancement of an infinite number of poor people.

Last, our current economic system could enable all the poor to be rich. The system enables us to transfer resources to any location on Earth and perhaps even off of Earth. But the Earth has finite resources. Also, our utilization of resources, such as fossil fuels, comes with detrimental pollution. Hence, while the system is capable, the result is unattainable.

Yet, the SDGs are our only blueprint for the future. And it is a good blueprint. So, what’s the best future? Do we control the number of rich? How many poor can the Earth accommodate? How do we preserve the Earth’s ecosystem while continually drawing down its capital? Perhaps most of all, what degree of achievement is optimal for each goal?
Chipping sparrow

Transportation

Henry Ford built cars. Many cars. And these cars needed roads so roads were built. And these cars needed petrol so petrol was refined. Presently, the Earth has over 64 million kilometres of roads. Transportation uses energy; over a third of all energy consumed or about 1.7e20Joules annually. By design, roads stop natural processes; roadways have no vegetation, no natural capturing of solar energy by plants. Almost all fuel comes from non-renewable fossil fuels. We know Henry Ford’s world of cars is not sustainable.

We have learned much from the Covid pandemic. One important piece of knowledge is that we can undertake beneficial work, even when working remotely. We don’t need to commute every day to an office. At least we learned this is possible if we have competent managers.

We have also learned that there’s much to enjoy in our local environment. We don’t need to travel halfway around the globe for a vacation. Rather, simply spending an hour walking in a natural environment of woods and glades recharges our spirits.

From an overarching view, today’s service economy is replacing the production economy emphasized by Henry Ford. The Internet is the backbone of the service economy. As showcased during the pandemic, we don’t need ready, personal transportation for each of the 8 billion people on Earth. Isn’t it time to reduce the unnecessary energy spent on transportation? And return roads to nature?

Tipping Points

Let’s view life as consisting of many systems. A system gathers inputs, processes them and emits outputs. A stable system continues unabated. A stable system can also accommodate occasional, small, acute divergences. That is, a momentary disruption of inputs, some stoppage of processes or a slight prevention of emissions will disrupt the system but not remove the system from its stable state. The system will overcome the glitch and continue.

However, most stable systems do not accommodate large, acute divergences or chronic divergences. These push the system to a tipping point. That is, the system tips from its stable state. Churns for a bit. Then, returns to a new stable state that does accommodate the divergences. If you know all about a system, all its inputs, processes and outputs, then you can predict its future state after the divergences.

We do not know all about our Earth system. However, we have identified 9 critical boundaries that correlate to processes of the Earth system. We know that we have passed 6 of these. We expect that their passages will tip processes toward a new, unknown stable state. In consequence, no amount of available energy returns the Earth system back to its current stable state. Are you ready as life plunges into this new Earth system?
Lizard

War in Europe

A critical, non-renewable resource should be safeguarded. Wisdom recommends it be used only as necessary. With the ongoing climate crisis, there’s also greater cause for safeguarding non-renewable fossil fuels due to their noxious by-products. And we can use the energy contained in fossil fuels only once; thereafter, it’s gone forever. Hence wisdom dictates restricting it to essential usage.

Yet folly has replaced wisdom as war returns to Europe. War, as typical, serves to destroy. In effect, combatants use large amounts of natural resources to ruin their opponent’s infrastructure. There’s little regard for the attendant loss in nature services or the commensurate loss of nature. Presumably the combatants assume that they can easily rebuild infrastructure and that nature regenerates itself. This isn’t wisdom given the constrained availability of energy and the finite ability of nature.

Let’s remember, non-renewable fuels can only be used once. As we use natural resources to build and rebuild infrastructure, we take more of nature for ourselves. And release more noxious emissions for future generations. Let’s also remember that when a species goes extinct, we’ve lost its service forever. Can we accept war as common in the future? Assuming not, how do we end war?
Fire at Chernihiv oil depot. Credit: nexta
Oil depot burning. Photo Nexta_TV

Did You Look Up?

Weather forecasts enable us to choose appropriate clothes for the day or to optimize activities for the upcoming weekend. Smart people make financial plans for their retirement. Robust organizations establish risk strategies to ensure continued operations. Each of these show planning for an optimal future based upon today’s knowledge.

Similarly, our species can plan and progress on a global scale. For example, under the Montreal Protocol, we protect the Earth’s ozone layer by managing chlorofluorocarbon emissions. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons aims to prevent worldwide nuclear holocaust. And, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals serve as signposts to continually guide actions toward a mutually prosperous future.

The recent film Don’t Look Up adds to the urgency of planning and activities. In the film, a mass-extinction-level asteroid will strike Earth. Yet, warnings are ignored or dismissed. The obvious question arises as to its allegory to the current crises of climate change and biodiversity. Have you watched the film? What was your response? Did you make plans or take actions?

Ignorance is an option. As much as we can wear a bathing suite for a walk in the rain, we can have a world without wild flora and fauna. But is this future we want? Or, will we plan and work toward better?
Looking Up